Moqueca is a delicious fish stew traditional to the beautiful and sunny state of Bahia in Brazil. Seafood there is of excellent quality. In Bahia this dish is named moqueca but outside we call it moqueca baiana. I think I’ve actually been biased toward moqueca capixaba, a lighter version popular in the neighboring state of Espírito Santo, just to the south. Perhaps the reason is simply because I have a couple of dear friends who live in ES. In Bahia, one only eats moqueca Baiana; and in Espírito Santo, moqueca capixaba. Truly, both are delicious.
Traditional moqueca baiana is made without paprika or shrimp paste. I decided to use these two alien ingredients for enhanced flavors and more color vibrancy. But this doesn’t make this a lesser a moqueca in any way. At times, Bahian foods remind me of South East Asian dishes or even things made in Louisiana. See here and here.
I purchased the dendê oil (palm oil) from the outrageously expensive Rainbow Foods Supermarket in San Francisco. It was Colombian, not Brazilian, but has an identical flavor. Actually, I had to go to several shops before I could locate it, so thank heavens for Rainbow. It was their last jar of the stuff.
I’ve had moqueca baiana many times but never actually made it at home, so this was a very exiting experience for me. I hope that you enjoy it as well.
moqueca baiana AKA Bahian fish stew
2½ lbs skinless thick pieces of wild caught ling cod, cut in ~6 inch steaks
½ lb medium sized wild caught shrimp; shelled, deveined and chopped
1 lb ripe heirloom tomatoes, skin removed, cut into chunks
½ bunch cilantro
4 scallions, green and white parts chopped
¼ cup coconut milk
2 tbsp dendê oil (palm oil)
¾ tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp shrimp paste (belakan)
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin rings
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin rings
1 white onion, diced small
5 cloves garlic, crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 red chili pepper, seeds and ribs removed, sliced thinly
Rinse fish in cold water; pat dry with paper towel. Place in a dish. Squeeze juice of 1 lime over it. Add equivalent of 3 cloves of garlic, followed by salt and a sprinkle of black pepper. Let it marinate for about ½ hour, in the fridge if too hot. In blustery San Francisco, I just let it chill on my kitchen counter.
Rinse shrimp in cold water; pat dry with paper towel. Place in a small bowl. Squeeze juice of second lime, add salt, black pepper, equivalent of one garlic clove, cover and let it marinate next to the cod fish.
Using a large and wide cooking pan, add dendê oil and onion. Bring temperature to high and cook for a few minutes just to sweat the onion, add remaining garlic, peppers, belakan, paprika, sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir everything together. Cover the pan and cook for about 3 minutes on high heat. Stir to avoid burning. Add tomatoes and cook until they collapse. Remove 1/3 of partially stewed vegetables to a bowl. Add fish steaks with juices to pan. Top with reserved stewed veggies. Cover and continue cooking vigorously on high heat for another 10 minutes. Carefully flip the fish half way through.
Uncover and scatter spring onion and ½ of the cilantro over fish followed by the shrimp with juices. Cook for another minute. Carefully mix in coconut milk and remaining cilantro. Adjust flavors with more salt and pepper if needed. Serve with white jasmine rice and extra wedges of lime.